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Direct Sales Leadership: Dovetailing Tips For Success

In the direct sales industry, the act of “dovetailing” a show is commonplace and problematic. Leaders, with an abundance of shows, often “dovetail” a show to one of their team members to help them launch (or re-launch) their business.

The trouble comes when expectations aren’t set (or met), and what should be a seamless transfer of clients becomes an attitude war. Here are just a few problems I’ve come across in my coaching career (and in my own direct sales experience):

  • Leaders pass off clients they don’t want to an inexperienced consultant that can’t “handle” them.
  • Consultants develop an entitlement mentality, expecting their leaders to just “give” them shows when they need it.
  • Clear expectations aren’t set when the show is dovetailed, and the consultant resents sharing the income from the show with their leader.
  • Clients get confused about which consultant is “their” consultant.
  • Consultants don’t follow-up, and lose the new clients, forcing the Leader to step in, which creates friction in the organization.

Let’s have a look at where the word “dovetail” comes from:

In carpentry, a dovetail joint is a tight, strong fit.

My grandpa was a carpenter, and explained to me long ago that dovetail joints are the strongest way to join two pieces of wood together. They’re also a bit complicated and time consuming to create, but worth the effort if done well.

If you examine the picture, you’ll see two boards coming together. Where the notch (called a mortise) receives the tab (called a tenon), you create a dovetail joint. When properly constructed, it is incredibly strong, resists coming apart, and is often used in high-quality construction of cabinet drawers.

Simply put, a dovetail is designed to last for ages. I have cabinets that have lost their bottoms, their knobs, and even other parts, but those dovetail joints are solid. Even without glue, a well-crafted dovetail will have a tight-fitting hold.

So it should also be in your direct sales business.

The leader is the tenon, extending their clients to a consultant, acting as the mortise (the notch that receives the dovetail).

There needs to be a tight fit. Leaders can’t just “pass off” their shows to a consultant and expect them to be successful. This is a gift that you extend as a courtesy for their demonstrated efforts at building their own business. Dovetailing is NOT a handout. Leaders need to set clear expectations with their consultants before, during and after the dovetailing of a show. These are my top suggestions for helping your consultants make the most of the “gift” you’ve given them:

  1. Pre-screen your consultants. Let them know that they have demonstrated a level of responsibility in building their business, and you’d like to reward them from your abundance by sharing a show or two with them. Make it clear that this is your investment in them, and you want it to be a “good fit” for your clients as well as the consultant. You’re not just “giving them a show”, you’re making an investment, and you expect a positive return on thst investment.
  2. Set clear expectations. Make it plain to your consultant how you will be compensated for dovetailing the show. In exchange for giving them your clients, at the minimum, you need to set an expectation that there will be some form of compensation. It doesn’t need to be money, but half of the profits from the show is typical. I often encourage my consultants to have better shows by telling them they’ll earn 90% (instead of 50%) if they hold a $1000+ show.
  3. Work with your consultant. Unless this is an established consultant, and you are sharing a show because of a scheduling conflict, it is incumbent upon you, as the leader, to make sure your consultant knows how to appreciate and fully utilize the gift they’ve been given. If they are weak at getting bookings in the first place, “giving them shows” will create a dependency, and possibly an entitlement mentality. Offer the dovetail in exchange for some one-on-one practice with their booking talk, or whatever area of their business needs improvement. I have heard a number of horror stories from leaders that dovetailed a party with 20 guests and the consultant doing the show got zero bookings.
  4. Prep your hosts. Let your hosts know about the dovetail. Make it clear that they always have a choice in who they want to work with. Also inform them that the consultant will be “theirs” unless and until the customer decides otherwise. Explain the nature of dovetailing, and give your clients the option to choose. There’s nothing worse for a new consultant than to do a show and watch all the bookings go back to her leader.

What about you? What other tips have you shared when dovetailing shows? Leave a comment below and share your ideas with the community.